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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

'Dinner at Eight' DVD: Appetizing Remake of '30s Cukor Classic

Dinner at Eight (1989)
Warner Archive's DVD release of the 1989 TNT network production "Dinner at Eight" is a great remake of the classic 1933 George Cukor film of the same name, which is based on a play by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber. The play may very well be based on personal experiences of Kaufman and Ferber.

The TNT version particularly plays like a combination of a play by then ex-husband of "Dinner" star Marsha Mason and the hilarious Britcom "Keeping up Appearances."  The prospect of hosting British royalty at her stylish Manhattan home initially thrills Mason's Millicent Jordan, whose obsession with etiquette and thwarted efforts to improve her social status rival those of "Appearance's" Hyacinth Bouquet (a.k.a. "the Bucket woman.)

Anxiety regarding planning the perfect dinner party to honor these "vacation friends" quickly replaces the glee of learning of their visit. This angst causes Millicent to even more strongly ignore the problems of husband Oliver Jordan, played by "Frasier's" John Mahoney, and daughter Paula than usual.

As an aside, Oliver's line that he owns the boats but that his guest of honor owns the oceans is one of the best of the film and seems familiar from the original.

The Simon elements comes in the form of having other well-known and moderately known celebrities play the roles of those invited to attend the big event and people in those people's lives. Simon's voice is also heard in the comic and not-so-comic woes that these characters are experiencing. These remind me of my grandfather's wisdom that becoming an adult only creates new problems.

Genuine screen legend Lauren Bacall awesomely steals the show as faded romance novelist Carlotta Vance, who makes a memorable statement regarding her personal reversal of fortune.

Carlotta's relationship with the Jordans is that she is Oliver's first love, a stockholder in his failing shipping company, and someone who still greatly cares for him. Having a small pack of King Charles cavalier spaniels accompany her virtually everywhere is a particularly nice (and apt) aspect of her character.

Having Carlotta staying in a hotel suite across the hall from the lodging of faded TV star (and desired dinner guest) Charles Renault, played by ultimately faded TV star Harry Hamlin, adds an element of the "Suite" plays by Simon.

Charles Durning does a great job in a typical Durning role as the wealthy but crude ant outspoken businessman Dan Packard, who is a business colleague of Oliver. Ellen Greene does a great job as Dan's bimbo wife, who literally lies in bed eating bon bons and watching television most of the day. Her great moment consists of saying over the telephone that she is watching PBS when she is actually looking at a "Tom and Jerry" cartoon.

Many of these strong personalities and those of other guest interact in very entertaining ways in the hours leading to the big event. Other humor relates to the disasters associated with Millicent trying to create a perfect evening; a leaky roof and a highly emotional plant expert are only a few of her problems.

Like any good farce, things come to a wryly amusing climax when the guests arrive for the big evening. The best part of this is that it provides Bacall a few more chances to steal the show. She is the woman of 1989 and every other year and never must claim a bogey.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Dinner" is welcome to email me; you can also contact me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

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